Queensland has recorded its deadliest day of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, with six deaths, and 14,914 new virus cases.
The death toll is just one short of the total number of seven Queenslanders who had previously died since the pandemic started two years ago.
It came as case numbers in NSW exploded to 92,264 on Thursday and 37,169 in Victoria, and as Queensland announced all domestic border restrictions would end next week.
A grim-faced Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the deaths of the six people, aged in their 70s to 90s, shortly before attending a national cabinet meeting to discuss the unfolding Omicron crisis that is sweeping the country and leading to bare supermarket shelves.
“During the whole two years of the pandemic we have lost seven people. To lose six in one day is a big shock and our thoughts are with the people at the moment. It is quite upsetting,” Ms Palaszczuk said, flanked by the state’s health and police chiefs.
“Tragically it is a very sad duty for me to report that we have lost six people overnight. That is the highest number of people that Queenslanders have lost during the pandemic.”
Expressing her sympathies to the families of those who had died, Ms Palaszczuk said those lost were grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.
Two were in their 70s, three in their 80s and one was older than 90.
Chief health officer Dr John Gerrard said all had significant underlying medical conditions. Three were in residential aged care, five were double-vaccinated and one was unvaccinated. None had yet received a booster shot.
On Thursday, Queensland had 556 people in hospital with COVID-19. They included 26 in intensive care, of whom 10 were on ventilators.
Ms Palaszczuk urged seniors to limit their movements during the current Omicron wave, which has infected tens of thousands of people across the state and the country.
And she announced that Queensland would hit the 90 per cent double vaccinated target at the end of next week.
Given this, the physical border closures, manned by police, will end at 1am on Saturday (local time).
The barricades will come down and the police will return to frontline policing duties.
Ms Palaszczuk said the decision was based on advice from Dr Gerrard, who had advised on Thursday that the Omicron spread along the east coast meant the physical border closures were no longer necessary.
“Now is the time for the barricades to come down and for the police to come home,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“That means anyone coming domestically across into Queensland, either by road or by air, they do not have to show that they have had their border pass, they don’t have to show that they have had a rapid antigen test … the time is now right as we head towards hitting that 90 per cent next week,” she said.
Restrictions for international travel would remain until Queensland hit the 90 per cent mark and it was officially declared, she said.
“it is a big decision but it is a decision that is needed as we reach the peak of this Omicron wave. Operationally the police are needed at the frontline and they have done an absolutely superb job … it is the right decision.”
Ms Palaszczuk said it would mean those in the border regions of northern NSW and the Gold Coast could freely reunite after bearing the brunt of the closures.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath also urged Queenslanders to “be sensible” and not to strip shelves bare of paracetamol. Ms D’Ath said she had heard stories of outlets being cleaned out.
“I just ask people to be sensible. You don’t need to stockpile boxes and boxes. Think about everyone else … just be sensible about this,” she said.
This article first appeared in InQueensland and is republished here with permission